Let Down by Super Bowl, Lincoln Plays Brackets

Lincoln has picked up the pieces after making the painful decision to yank its planned $2.1 million Super Bowl spot.

The Ford luxury brand is the presenting sponsor of CBS Sportsline’s online bracket challenge. The deal includes participation from Earvin “Magic” Johnson and a truck giveaway.

The brackets site includes running commentary from Johnson at lincoln.com/magic. He will make game picks, discuss his favorite teams and offer advice on playing the brackets. Players can track their picks alongside his throughout the tournament.

The sponsorship is part of the launch campaign for Lincoln’s 2006 Mark LT luxury truck.

The rollout had a false start in January, when the company made the decision to pull a $2.1 million Super Bowl spot that had sparked controversy before it aired.

Less than a week before the big game, Lincoln gave a sneak preview of a TV ad titled “Charity.” The :30 spot involved the juxtaposition of a clergyman, the Mark LT, and a mistaken donation of keys to the collection plate. Some advocates of molestation victims cried foul at the equation of a priest with the ad’s theme of “lust.” Lincoln reluctantly pulled the spot.

That ad was also supposed to drive game-watchers to a Web site, where they could view spin-offs based on the TV ad’s themes. The online component was also spiked. Both the TV and online components were the work of Lincoln’s agency, Young & Rubicam Detroit.

Ford replaced the controversial ad with another spot, for the Mustang convertible, and the Ford brand picked up the media cost. With the extra money from that unconsummated deal burning a hole in its pocket, Lincoln sought out what it knew to be the next big sports event.

“It was one of the reasons we were able to do this with the NCAA,” said a Lincoln Mercury spokesperson. “We’re trying to reach some of that same audience. This is just much more targeted.”

As part of its brackets sponsorship, Lincoln will give away a customized 2006 Lincoln Mark LT to one high-scoring player. Fans can make their predictions beginning March 13. Additionally, site visitors will be urged to build their own Mark LT online.

Lincoln Mercury has stepped up as an innovator in interactive marketing. It was also behind “Meet the Lucky Ones,” a successful viral campaign that appeared late last year.

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